The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Prop 36: Complicated Overhaul of the Three Strikes Law

Some would say that the current version of the Three Strikes Law is not in need of an overhaul. The law provides stiffer sentences for repeat felony offenders. Second strikers face sentencing enhancements that could double the amount of time spent in prison. The law also allows a prosecutor to push for a sentence of twenty-five years to life for offenders who have committed their third felony.

Of course, all sentences must also be approved by the judge as well. The discretion of the prosecutor and judge should ensure that no unfair results occur. On the other hand, we've seen cases where a man is sentenced to twenty-five years to life for stealing video tapes or pizza.

The state budget crisis is demanding cuts in all facets of state government, including prisons. At present, there are a number of inmates convicted of nonviolent, nonserious felonies that are serving life while others who aren’t repeat offenders are let out of prison early due to overcrowding. California’s Three Strikes Law is one of the harshest of its kind.

The main change that will happen if Prop 36 is passed is life sentences will only be imposed if the “third strike” is a serious and violent felony. Those convicted of a nonserious or nonviolent felony will not face life. Instead, they will face a double penalty. For example, someone who faces two years on the underlying offense will receive four years. In addition, the law will allow current third strikers, if their third strike was nonviolent and nonserious, to petition for resentencing. There are exceptions to the change, however. Life sentences are required for those convicted of the following, either in a prior case or a third strike:

  • Sexually violent offenses, as defined here;
  • Oral copulation, sodomy, or sexual penetration of a child under 14 and is more than 10 years younger than the offender;
  • Lewd or lascivious act involving a child under 14;
  • Homicide, attempted homicide, or solicitation to commit homicide;
  • Assault with a machine gun on a peace officer;
  • Possession of a weapon of mass destruction;
  • Any serious and/or violent felony punishable by life imprisonment or death.

In short, the cretins, creepers, and rapists will remain in prison, whether their grotesque crime occurred in the past or present. Those convicted of less serious felonies, including for example, a DUI causing injury, certain theft offenses, and of course, killing a pelican with one’s bare hands, will not end up in prison for the remainder of their lives.

As a bonus, the measure is expected to save about $90 million per year in the near-term (due to release of current inmates) and $70 million per year in the long-term (due to less life sentences imposed). There will be some short term costs due to the need to process all of the petitions for resentencing, though report costs should be offset by the savings.

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